Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Google Books' Version of 'New Facts on the Ground'

We're waiting for the Supreme Court ruling in "Freelance" (Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick) and for the revised Google Books settlement in federal district court. In the meantime, blogger Eric Rumsey has posted a must-read piece, "Google Books Integrated into Google Search Results," http://blog.lib.uiowa.edu/hardinmd/2009/10/30/google-books-integrated-into-google-search-results/. I urge everyone to reflect on its implications.

Rumsey astutely notes that the settlement controversy has distracted Google-watchers from the way Google Books actually works. "Several notable improvements were made during the summer," he writes, and "that got very little recognition. Another change that seems to have gotten little recognition is that Google web searches have begun to include links to books in GBS in the last 1-2 years."

I am quick to concede that Rumsey and I seem to be approaching this news from different angles. Rumsey, a medical librarian, may see these "improvements" as a good thing. I see them as another example of what I call the corporate infringer's m.o.: creating new facts on the ground that make a mockery of the legal system.

In Freelance, we've seen the Orwellian "standstill agreement" by which one side (the plaintiffs) stood still, while another side (the defendants) continued infringing, expanded infringement, and indeed used these practices to create new and ever-more-ingenious ways to exploit writers' previously published works. These unilateral maneuvers seem to have succeeded in some measure in endearing them to naive end users, who came to see big publishers as friends, and independent creators as enemies, of access.

Not surprisingly, Google has done -- and, as "settlement" "negotiations" proceed, continues to this day to do -- the very same thing. The illusion of access, with the predatory pricing of "zero" for redistribution of pirated works, isn't just the mother's milk of the new information industry. It's the heroin. It's part of the package by which the bad guys "ask forgiveness, not permission," because they are "too big to fail."


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